Adaptations of video games into other forms of media, primarily film and television, have historically been deemed failures by fans and critics alike. While some of them achieved financial success, it didn’t always tally with the success of the video game from which the project was adapted. Movies and TV are the biggest culprits of subpar customization. Some books, comics, audio dramas, and more are based on video games with relative success, but like film and television, they never quite hit the mark. When video games are adapted to other media, creators often overlook what made the video game a success.
Video games are unique in that they are the only artistic medium that gives people agency. People watching a movie don’t have options for how scenes should play on the screen. Video games allow players to regularly make decisions about what will happen on screen. Players choose how to overcome obstacles, deal with enemies, and often what the main character looks like. Some video games even let players change the story. It is this agency that gamers have that makes video games the most unique artistic medium.
When video games are adapted into another medium, this agency is taken away from the player. “Players” are demoted to “Spectators”. Some games have narratives that rival the best in film and television, so translating them into one of those mediums makes perfect sense, but even the best stories in a game have the gameplay to back them up. For example, The last of us has one of the greatest stories in gaming, but it also has incredibly creative gameplay to accompany that story. While it was the narrative that made the game culturally influential, it’s the addictive survival gameplay that made it a gaming classic.
Similar, resident Evil is a series best known for its survival horror gameplay and atmosphere. Some of the games in the series also have unique and interesting stories. However, the resident Evil Movies could never capture the horror aspect of the series, instead opting to loosely adapt the series into action films. It’s almost impossible for a movie or show to recreate the kind of suspense that a survival horror video game offers because the viewers aren’t drawn into the action. Players feel the terror that lurks around every corner of a game because they are the ones controlling the character.
However, there have been some video game adaptations that broke with the mold. movies like Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog are some of the most entertaining movies to watch. While these films don’t offer the player agency felt in games, they succeed by taking characters who are iconic mascots and creating a new story based on them. That Sonic the Hedgehog The film changes the story of the Blue Guy from what has previously been seen in games and comics, but Sonic has always been an iconic character, allowing him to be used in new narratives. Similar, Pokemon is one of the most well-known franchises in the world and has had years of manga and anime spin-offs as well as video games that serve as the basis for new stories.
Obviously there is a way to make video games adapt well to other media. However, without a gameplay hook, it can make the customization process extremely difficult. No matter how good a video game’s story is, players won’t feel as immersed when watching it on the big screen. The lack of agency that players have when watching a video game movie removes an important aspect of the game that players love. Given the amount of agency and immersion video games out there, it might be better to turn movies and TV shows into video games instead.